Just off the coast of the Florida Keys lies the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world. The reef
extends approximately 221 miles down the South East coast of Florida and runs parallel to the
Florida Keys starting at Key Biscayne near Miami all the way down to the Dry Tortugas which
are 70 miles west of Key West. The reef is found from 1 mile to 8 miles offshore.
The majority of the reef system off Key Largo was ceded over to the Key Largo National
Marine Sanctuary in 1975, which was then incorporated into the Florida Keys National
Marine Sanctuary in 1990. Because of this, the reefs that we visit are now under heavier
protection and heavier enforcement of violations. The reefs are showing great benefits
from this protection! Many of the most sensitive, healthiest reefs are now protected as
Sanctuary Preservation Areas, a designation that was put in place July 1st, 1997. Being
designated as an SPA makes it illegal to fish, lobster, stand, anchor on the reef, or even
touch anything within the SPA boundaries. This protection has boosted levels of large
gamefish on the reefs and greatly stabilized the overall health of the reef tract.
There is plenty of very good fishing that is not within the reserves. Reef fishing in the Florida
Keys and Key West yields a wide range of fish, many of which are especially fine for the table.
Charter and commercial boats head out to the coral reef to fish for snapper and grouper.
Often, though, a few other species will join in the hunt. Sharks, barracuda, and countless
panfish are often just as likely to take the bait.
The reef favorite is yellowtail snapper. With a pure flavor, this tough-fighting fish won't
disappoint. Just as delicious, and stubborn as a goat, is the grouper. In a variety of flavors
(black, red, strawberry, snowy), this bottom fish can leave your hook jammed in the rocks. Be
quick and be strong.
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|More helpful Florida Keys and Key West websites:
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